Where is Kyrgyzstan and Why Should I Go?

Saturday, December 1, 2018

You don’t have to know where is Kyrgyzstan; you have to understand where is Kyrgyzstan. One of the most liberal Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan culture comes from the ancient Scythians and Kyrgyz. With a strong nomad tradition and beautiful landscapes, these people will definitely impress you and any visiting tourist. 

This is an entirely mountainous country. The highest peak in Kyrgyzstan is Jengish Chokusu with 7,439 m. Discover where is Kyrgyzstan for the sake of the mountains, natural parks, and exotic landscapes. 

Understand Kyrgyzstan for the hundreds of years of history, culture, and unique traditions. Enter a fascinating world and open your heart to the vast and free spirit of this country. 

It isn’t easy to submerge into an entirely different culture, but you will only benefit from doing this.

Best Time to Visit Kyrgyzstan

Where is Kyrgyzstan, there is a lot of nature for you to experience all year round. This is Karakol Valley.
Where is Kyrgyzstan, there is a lot of nature for you to experience all year round. This is Karakol Valley.

With a continental climate, Kyrgyzstan has hot summers and cold winters. This makes the country comfortable for a visit all year long. 

Still, because you cannot miss trekking and outdoor experiences in the beautiful Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan Mountains, you should probably plan a journey during July or August. 

Nevertheless, if you are a winter sports enthusiast plan a journey also during winter. Fresh powder, incredible snow owned to the special continental climate, along with stunning mountains will give you the adventure of a lifetime. 

Read more: Where is Tajikistan?

It isn’t luxurious in après-ski resorts and everything an Alpine experience will give you. But, imagine a day of hiking and, skiing, and seeing just snowy peaks and blue sky. No crowds, no people, you’ll have just peace and a paradise of snow.

If you are convinced and already plan a ski adventure, here are some of the best ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan:

  • Karakol – this is the fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan, and it is known for its beautiful lakes and ski resorts. With over 20 km of slopes, situated between 2,300 m and 3,000 m, Karakol can be the first on your list.
  • Orlovka – a small village, recently transformed into a city, Orlovka has well-maintained slopes for everybody. The town is situated only 100 km away from the capital, Bishkek.
  • Kashka-Suu – also near the capital (only 35 km away), this resort has six slopes with different levels of difficulty. It also has a sauna, open-air cafes, restaurants, and all the comfort of modern life.
  • Arslanbob – this is a small and picturesque village, famous for ski touring. Untouched snow routes through the walnut forests, and the maximum elevation at 3 800 m will make sure you have a great adventure.
  • Toguz – Bulak – offers 9 km of slopes both for skiing and snowboarding

How to Get Around in Kyrgyzstan

The roads in Kyrgyzstan aren't perfect by any means, but the scenery you'll see on the road is breathtaking.
The roads in Kyrgyzstan aren't perfect by any means, but the scenery you'll see on the road is breathtaking.

You can come to Kyrgyzstan by plane or by car. The roads aren’t perfect, but they will take you to amazing places, and you’ll forget the trouble. 

Pamir Highway or traveling on the “roof of the world” is a must do experience. With one end in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and one end in Khorog, Tajikistan, Pamir Highway covers parts of the old Silk Road. They say it is an experience you cannot be prepared for. 

Read more: Kyrgyzstan Road Trip

Harsh, but outstanding, hard work, but incredibly beautiful, this journey will be a story to remember.

As in all Central Asian countries, traveling in shared taxis and buses is common, but not a comfortable practice. For short distances, it is not so bad, but if you have a long journey in front of you, try using your own car. 

Also, Kyrgyzstan is very popular for bike trekking and motorbike trips. If you want to get around how the Kyrgyz people do, try riding a horse. It is said that Kyrgyz are born on the back of the horse, and they are indeed exquisite horse riders. 

What to Do in Kyrgyzstan

Chon Kemin National Park is an example of breathtaking and dramatic nature of Kyrgyzstan.
Chon Kemin National Park is an example of breathtaking and dramatic nature of Kyrgyzstan.

Start your journey in Bishkek, the capital and the largest city in Kyrgyzstan. This is a relatively new city, but it is the center point of the country, near to Tien Shan Mountains, and the starting point of your exploring adventure. 

Read more: Where is Kazakhstan?

Bishkek population is about 900,000 inhabitants, which makes it the biggest population concentration in the country. The legacy of the recent Soviet history can be still found here. Visit Ala-Too Square or Panfilov Park to make an idea. 

You can also experience local baths like Zhirgal Banya or Mystic Spa Bishkek or get lost in the Osh Bazaar and see all the wonders of a Central Asian market. 

Here is a list of places you must see when you arrive in Bishkek:

  • State Historical Museum – shows the history of the Kyrgyz people and dedicates ample space to the Soviet era. It also has temporary exhibitions
  • M. Frunze Museum – a museum dedicated to the World War I hero, General Mikhail Frunze. The city was named after him before the independence.
  • Panfilov Park – an amusement park and a green oasis in the middle of the city
  • Burana Tower – even if it isn't precisely in Bishkek (it is 80 km away), this large minaret is a must. Built in the end of the 9th century, today it is only 25 m tall (it was 45 m initially). But it has legends and history and very interesting architecture.

An old city, actually the oldest city in Kyrgyzstan, is waiting near the Uzbekistan border. It is called Osh and was founded at least 3,000 years ago. 

It is home for the largest and most crowded market in Central Asia. It is also a multiethnic city.

If you are in Osh only for a day, here are some things you have to do or see:

  • Sulayman Mountain – it is a mountain with ancient sites of worship. Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sulayman Mountain is considered the perfect example of the Central Asian sacred mountain. Many sites are still in use. It also has a museum of archaeology, geology, and history arranged in a cave. Hiking routes are also available.
  • Lenin Statue – after the collapse of the Soviet era many of the statues depicting it were removed. In Osh there is still the statue of Lenin, telling you the story of Soviet art.
  • The Bazaar – it is after all the largest in Central Asia. Feel free to negotiate, as it is a local custom. You'll find here everything you need and everything you don't need, from food to souvenirs and craftworks.

The nature of Kyrgyzstan is something you need to experience. Go visit Ala Archa National Park, which is only 40 km away from Bishkek. 

Named after a local species of juniper, used to chase away evil spirits, the park has over 200 km2 of pure beauty. 

Go see Jeti Oguz Canyon and its orange strange rocks. Sleep in a yurt, as the locals do, in the Issyk Kul Jurten Camp. This country will surprise you at every step. 

Nature was generous with this country. Not less than ten natural parks and reserves are spread across the country. They are:

  • Ala Archa National Park – the most famous and easy to get to. It is situated near Bishkek.
  • Sary Chelek Biosphere Reserve – with unspoiled nature and the stunning Sary Chelek Lake, this region is declared UNESCO World Biosphere since 1978. It gets to a 4,250m altitude.
  • Arslanbob Walnut Forest – this is a fairy tale region, with trekking routes and horse riding opportunities. Walnuts were the first product Kyrgyzstan has exported.
  • Salkyn Tor National Park – offers conifer forests and alpine landscape. It is peaceful and relaxing. Wildlife also has a good home here. If you are lucky enough you can see snow leopards, red deer, bears, lynxes or bearded snow vultures.
  • Korona Peak – the dream of any mountain lover, this 4,860 m high peak sits proudly on top of Ak Sai Glacier. It is rocky and hard to climb, but it couldn't get any better.
  • Oguz Bashi Peak – situated in the Jeti Oguz Valley, Oguz Bashi Peak is the third highest peak in the Terskey Ala-Too Range. It is 5,170 m high. It actually has two peaks on top, like two horns, which gave its name: Bull's Head.
  • Naryn National Reserve – founded in 1983, this reserve is home for various species of plants and wildlife. Lakes Song Kul and Kel Suu are peaceful and gracious.
  • Holy Rock – it is a limestone block of 4,428 m. Rare and rewarding, a trip to the Holy Rock is a must if you get to Arslanbob region.
  • Padysh Ata Reserve – is home for juniper forests and snow leopards. The statistics say there are only 4,500 – 7,500 snow leopards living in Central Asia. Besides juniper and snow leopard, in Padysh Ata Reserve there is one more to protect: the sacred Kyrgyz place Padysh Ata Mazar.
  • Chon-Kemin National Park – it is a unique place in Kyrgyzstan, which includes a gorge and the valley of Chon Kemin River. Fir forests and green meadows will accompany you in this land. Peaks over 4,700 m are always covered in snow and offer steep slopes and adrenaline. Follow the valley of the river if you are looking for softer experiences.

New cities or old ones, beautiful lakes or steep mountains, Kyrgyzstan has them all. You just have to be patient and have time to explore and understand. Life is not easy at high altitude but is unique and rewarding.

What to Eat in Kyrgyzstan

Where is Kyrgyzstan, you can enjoy in their local kebab, shashlik.
Where is Kyrgyzstan, you can enjoy in their local kebab, shashlik.

Kyrgyz cuisine is famous for its unique nomad influences. Try mutton, beef, and horse meat. If you don’t try them here, where will you have this chance again? 

Maybe you will enjoy a horse meat sausage like kazy or chuchuk. You can also try them in dumplings (called manty or samsa). 

Central Asian flatbread is present in Kyrgyzstan too. A meal without Nan is not a meal, as they say. 

And you cannot leave Kyrgyzstan without drinking kymyz, a drink made of fermenting mare milk. Kymyz is slightly alcoholic, so if you want just a refresher, try maksym, made of fermenting grains and alcohol-free. 

Pampushky, anyone? You deserve a dessert, so these sweet Kyrgyz donuts will be the perfect end for a nourishing meal.

Kyrgyz cuisine is special. Built on the nomad life principles, using what was in hand, and always thinking about tomorrow, food is respected and never wasted. Taste everything and learn. 

Here are some authentic Kyrgyz dishes you don't want to miss:

  • Oromo – meat covered in many layers of dough and steamed in a special pot. You can find it in bazaars and people's homes.
  • Besh Bamak – lamb with noodles.
  • Kazy Karta – medallions of horse meat.
  • Shorpo – meat soup with potatoes.
  • Beshbamark – horse meat stew.
  • Plov – meat with rice and vegetables. It can be beef or mutton meat.
  • Lagman – vegetables with noodles. It can be dry or in the form of a soup.
  • Samsa – dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables.
  • Shashlik – the local version of kebab. It can be made with mutton meat, but also with more extravagant types of meat like chicken and beef.

Kyrgyzstan is rare and completely different. Its uniqueness deserves the trouble to find out where is Kyrgyzstan. Get your map and your car, pack your bags and explore the world. 

People grew authentic traditions in every corner of the world. Every time, nature has helped them to find their own way. Be inspired and find yours, as a Kyrgyz nomad will do.

While you are in Kyrgyzstan, make time for new experiences, whether they are about food, skiing, riding a horse, or living in a yurt. 

Kyrgyz people live a different life than the Western one and you'll notice that they preserve it very well effortlessly. Clothes, foods, traditions, festivals, sports, they all are adapted to high altitude and terrain.  

Kyrgyzstan is a lesson about adaptation and embracing nature. An authentic Silk Road adventure, this country could never be boring. Now that you know where is Kyrgyzstan, is it time to visit this amazing country?

Monica Radulescu a freelance writer for aSabbatical.com
Travelling is a joy. It's a way to become a better and wiser person. Mountain paths and road trips are my favourites.